commentary and current events

I’m Obsessed With Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond

But not for the reasons you think.

About a year ago, this tweet happened:

An embedded tweet from @TaschaLabs, reading “If you make a NFT of a real diamond, and the diamond itself gets destroyed in a fire tomorrow, you still have the same asset. Because the token still exists and is in limited supply just as before. Nothing has changed. What NFT is doing to the concept of asset, few understand.”

This tweet got parodied 11 months later:

An embedded tweet from @JUN|PER with a screenshot of the original @TachaLabs tweet and the comment “if you buy a donut and get a receipt, and the donut itself gets stolen and eaten, you still have the same asset because the receipt still exists, nothing has changed.”

The parody version got traction by being funny, but it’s not a perfect analogy. And the ways in which the analogy doesn’t line up with the original fascinate me.

First: An NFT isn’t (always) a receipt.

A non-fungible token or NFT is a unique digital identifier. Think of it like a VIN, but existing solely as digital information (i.e. it’s not etched into anything – although I suppose it could be).

Early successes in making money from NFTs usually connected the digital identifier to some type of artwork, whether physical (paint on canvas) or digital (JPEGs of anthropomorphized monkeys). These connections make it easier for ordinary folks to think of NFT ownership as akin to art ownership, or at least to receipt ownership. Maybe I can’t take apart a 50-foot mural painted on the side of City Hall and move it to my own apartment, but I can own a digital identifier that indicates I am connected to that artwork.

It is possible to use NFTs as receipts. For instance, if you were really into my bad MS Paint drawings of 90s cartoon characters, you could purchase one from me, and I could send you an NFT connected to that artwork as proof that you gave me money in exchange for the artwork.

The fact that NFTs can be used as receipts is why the donut analogy makes sense.

Yet – here’s where it gets weird – NFT ownership is not automatically the same thing as item ownership.

To put it in donut terms, NFTs create a world where it’s possible to buy a donut receipt, but never actually own a donut. What you own is a donut receipt. The receipt doesn’t prove you exchanged money for a donut; the receipt is what you received in exchange for your money.

(This conjures up an Inception-like universe of receipt receipts, and receipt receipt receipts, and so on, but we’ll let that eldritch horror lie.)

And Then There Was IP Law

To make this ownership problem more complex, NFTs are commonly attached to creative works: Visual artworks, music, and so on. Put another way, NFTs are commonly attached to items that fall under copyright law.

And in the copyright world, owning the item is not the same thing as owning the underlying rights.

A group of crypto types calling themselves the Spice DAO presumably learned this the hard way when they pooled their funds to purchase a rare copy of a book created for a never-produced screen version of Dune. The Spice DAO then started discussing what they’d do with the book, floating the idea of actually making the version of Dune sketched out in it.

Apparently, no one had ever told them that owning a physical copy of a book doesn’t mean you own the rights to the intellectual property it contains. (Otherwise, everyone who ever bought a copy of Harry Potter would be a multimillionaire.)

So: Owning an NFT doesn’t mean you own any physical referent object in the real world. It doesn’t mean you own any rights at all vis a vis any physical referent object or its intellectual property contents. It only means you own a unique digital identifier.

Enter the Destroyed Diamond

@TaschaLabs does, at least, appear to grasp that when you own an NFT, what you own is a unique digital identifier, not the underlying object.

In fact, that’s the entire point behind Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond.

Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond is an NFT that signifies pretty much exactly what the title implies. It is a diamond, belonging to Tascha, which Tascha intended to destroy – and apparently succeeded in powdering, if not actually vaporizing.

If I’m reading the tweets correctly, the goal of Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond was to demonstrate that the value of the diamond can be ported, or transferred, or symbolized, by the NFT – the digital identifier. The underlying theory is that because the digital tag is unique, it retains value even if the physical referent (the diamond) doesn’t even exist.

Here’s Why I’m Obsessed

My obsession with Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond boils down to three points:

It verified in obvious terms that buying an NFT is not the same thing as buying its referent.

As I noted above, it could be the same thing. You could buy a diamond and its NFT together, for instance. But buying an NFT doesn’t automatically confer ownership rights in its referent. Buying a donut receipt doesn’t guarantee you get a donut.

After all, it’s still Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond.

If buying an NFT isn’t the same thing as buying its referent, NFT bros are sleeping on major untapped sources of revenue.

For example: If I can buy the NFT of Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond (I can), and if that NFT doesn’t lose value whether or not Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond actually exists in any meaningful sense (suspend your disbelief for a second), then what is stopping me from creating or buying NFTs of other items that also do not currently exist?

There’s no reason time should be a limiting factor. An NFT of the Library of Alexandria – another valuable thing that once existed but has since been destroyed (in an actual fire this time) – should be not only feasible, but staggeringly valuable.

Yet I doubt it will be, because:

NFTs depend on buyers not understanding the first two points.

The original tweet claims that “What NFT is doing to the concept of asset, few understand.” So let me clear it up a bit:

NFTs are a market for unique digital identifiers. That’s it. NFTs are like if your friend sent you a list of randomly-generated numbers via Google Docs, and you sold each of those numbers. “They’re valuable because each number is unique!” you tell all your friends. “Buy one now! Nobody will ever have your exact same number!”

“What can I do with these numbers?” your friends ask. “Should I turn them in to the lottery commission to claim a prize? Do they prove I own a car? Can I use them for identity theft? If I put them all in my auto-dialer, can I run a telemarketing scam getting people to donate $1 to me today so they feel happier?”

“No,” you explain. “You just own a string of numbers in this Google Doc. But they are unique!”

…It’s pretty clear why NFTs started having real-world referents fairly quickly.

By the way, the existence of a market for unique digital identifiers doesn’t fundamentally change the concept of an asset. Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond seeks to make clear that NFTs have value separately from any real-world referent. But scarcity or real-world referents are not where value comes from.

Like every other item in commerce, NFTs derive their value from demand. Demand is driven by a sense of utility. We exchange money for things because we believe the thing will provide us proportional utility. (I use “utility” broadly to include any sense of being better off, including aesthetic or emotional.)

Book collectors understand this. While book scouts and dealers in rare books do swap price estimates, when pressed they will admit that the actual value of a book is only what someone is willing to pay for it. In other words, the value of used and rare books depends on demand.

For some people, bragging rights and a sense of being “in” on something are high-utility items. NFTs appeal to this crowd, and they’ll continue to do so for some time.

But buying a receipt and buying a donut are not the same thing. If you want to own a real-world referent, buy the referent. If you want to own a digital identifier whose existence depends on technology that already eats more energy than the annual expenditures of Denmark, buy an NFT.

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neurodivergence

Music Theory “Allowed” This Abomination and It Will Allow Yours

One of the most common questions I get from the composition-curious is “I want to do [insert melody, chord progression, etc. here], does music theory allow that?”

The short answer is always Yes.

Music theory isn’t prescriptive. It doesn’t tell you what you can and can’t do.

Music theory is descriptive. It takes existing music and tries to explain how it’s put together.

Some music is less complicated to explain. Some is more complicated to explain. Sometimes more than one explanation is available. But the music comes first; the explanation comes later.

For example, consider the worst song ever written. I’ll add a lead sheet here so we can all look at the same thing:

(This lead sheet is from Michael Kravchuk.)

By using this particular lead sheet, I don’t intend to imply this particular lead sheet/arrangement is a bad one. In fact, I chose this one because this is a good lead sheet for “Happy Birthday.”

My point is that even a good notation of “Happy Birthday” (as this one is) can’t save this abomination of a song, and music theory is powerless against it.

So. This…thing.

First things first: It doesn’t start on do (as in “donut”), aka the “tonic,” aka the “root,” aka “that one note everyone agrees should end and usually begin a song even if everyone sings like an owl trapped in a bucket.” Your ear knows what the root is even if your vocabulary doesn’t.

Here, the root is G. We know this from the key signature, which in this case is a single hashtag that has wandered away from Twitter:

Here, G is the note the song ends on, which you know if you’ve ever sung this thing in a bucket of owls. You know when the tune is over even if you know nothing else.

Sleeping through harmony class

The first chord in “Happy Birthday” is the root chord, aka “I.” The root chord, or I, is the chord whose lowest note (usually) is the root note, or “do,” or the “tonic” (it has a lot of names).

Here, we know the first chord is I because the music tells us so by putting the note name of the chord over the staff:

The G major chord is made of the notes G, B, and D. “Happy Birthday” starts on D, so that’s nice at least. But “birth” is sung on E, which isn’t even in the chord. So you’ll hear the root note but you won’t sing it, which is a terrible choice to make when writing a tune to be sung by people who usually avoid singing.

Musicology Moment: E is the relative minor of G, so your ear hears a relationship between the G in the chord and the E you’re singing even if it doesn’t appear on paper. The fact that this song invokes its own sad dark-sounding minor while pretending to be in a nice bright happy major key is called “foreshadowing.” It warns us just how painful this “music” will actually be.

The root is in the hole and the hole is in the ground and SO IS MY CORPSE

Most simple well-known tunes begin on the root. “When the Saints Go Marching In” begins on the root, for instance. So does “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” So does “Frere Jacques.” So does “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” aka “The Alphabet Song.”

Simple well-known tunes that don’t begin on the root usually get there pretty quickly. Also, they usually get there in a way that makes sense with the lyrics. “Hot Cross Buns” gets to the root on the third note, which is also the last word of the first phrase (“buns”). (Insert “buns” joke here.)

The chorus of “Jingle Bells” takes a little longer to get to the root. But the journey makes sense with the lyrics. “Jingle bells” and “jingle bells” are all on the same note. The third “jingle” repeats that note but adds a new one, to signal that the next word isn’t “bells.” The next word, “all,” is a brand new word – and it’s also the one sung on the root note. So the tune gets more interesting as the words do. That’s what makes “Jingle Bells” both easy to sing and easy to remember. (Sorry, parents of five year olds.)

In both “Hot Cross Buns” and “Jingle Bells,” the root is also the lowest note in terms of pitch. This is good. The ear likes the root to be the lowest note. This is why we call it the root.

When you’re writing a tune to go with words, your audience will like the result better if the tune makes sense with the lyrics in some way. So of course “Happy Birthday” does not.

Great expectations…disappointing results

“Happy Birthday” starts on sol, aka the “dominant,” aka the “5th.” (In the lead sheet above, the root is G, so the dominant is D. If the root was C, the dominant would be G. Google “tetrachords” if you want to understand why.)

Starting on sol isn’t so bad by itself. After the root, the dominant is the easiest for the human ear to pick out. The ear loves it some movement between the 5th and the root, especially at the end of a song. (More on this later.)

Make it make sense

But even though the human ear loves it some do-sol slash 1-5 relationships, it also wants them to make sense. As you know if you’ve ever heard a toddler bang on a piano, the difference between music and noise is order.

In “Happy Birthday,” is the root easy to find? Is it somewhere below the beginning note? Is it placed on a word where it makes sense, like the first or last word of a new phrase? Is it, in other words, in some order?

Of course not.

ell oh ell, as the youths say

The first instance of the root note, G, is on “to.”

In the middle of a phrase. A phrase where the concepts “happy,” “birthday,” and “you” are all more important than the preposition “to.” In fact, if you were to say “happy birthday you,” the birthday person would still understand what you meant!

Does your ear even realize this is the root? Maybe, but let’s be honest, probably not, because it’s floating around in the air a whole perfect 4th above that D we all started on.

Well, not everyone comes out of the corner swinging. Let’s try this again. In fact, let’s sing the exact same phrase a second time, just so we’re all on the same pa-

oh.

wait.

never mind.

Repetition makes sense, and we can’t have that

The second “Happy Birthday to you” has the same words, sure. But it doesn’t have the same melody. And just because birthdays are for crying, it’s not on the same chord, either.

Electrocuted with a frayed chord

The root chord, or the one with the root note at its bottom, is also known as I (that’s Roman Numeral I to you). The dominant chord, or the one with the fifth at its bottom, is also known as V (pronounced “five”).

I-V (“one-five”) is a pretty common chord progression. It’s the start of a I-V-vii-IV (“one-five-six minor-four”) progression, which is ridiculously popular in US music, across several genres.

Our ears dig that groovy vibe. More importantly for a song everyone is forced to sing several times a year, our ears know that groovy vibe.

I knew you were trouble when you plonked in

So does “Happy Birthday” give us that groovy vibe we dig so well?

NOT QUITE, BIRTHDAY MOPS.

Because this isn’t, strictly speaking, a V chord. It’s V7.

“So, what, like V-8 without the tomato juice?” I imagine you’re asking, even though you’re probably asking something much less silly.

A standard good old-fashioned chord is built by starting on whatever note the chord is named for and skipping every other letter (give or take) until you have three notes.

In the case of D, we start on D, skip E, add F (actually here it’s F# because this is D major but let’s just keep moving, this song isn’t going to trash itself), skip G, and add A.

If we numbered all this, we’d start on 1, skip 2, add 3, skip 4, and add 5.

A seventh chord takes one more skip and adds the seventh note up. For D major, that’s adding E.

Seventh chords are very popular, but for an unpopular reason. They’re popular because they add dissonance, or that sense that something isn’t quite right.

Musicology Moment: A regular chord is a good old friend you always invite to sleepovers. A seventh chord is that friend’s wild and untrustworthy cousin who is probably going to get you all into trouble, but at least you’ll have a wild middle-grade novel adventure along the way.

In any other standard folk song intended to be easy to remember and sing, I-V would make total sense. But this is “Happy Birthday,” a song everyone needs to sing at least once a year. So let’s just slap in that troublemaker 7th chord. It’s fine, the birthday child is not actually on fire.

Yet.

And then things get weird

Here’s the thing about 7th chords: They’re actually kind of a pain to play.

That’s because a proper 7th chord requires four notes, and four notes can be hard to squeeze out on some instruments.

Whether they’re easy for you on a piano depends entirely on the size of your hands. I have wee pixie fingers that haven’t grown since I was in fifth grade. The proper 7th chord on piano is my mortal enemy.

Why you little….

Fortunately for us digit-length-impaired individuals, there are many ways to fake a 7th chord. One of the easiest, when you’re going from I to V7, is to play I again but move the middle note from 3 to 4.

In this case, I’d play that G chord: G-B-D.

Then I’d move my middle finger a bit and play G-C-D.

It’s a lot faster and easier than moving my baby fingers of fury from G-B-D to D-F#-A-C. Trust me.

There is an impostor among us

In this hot mess of a “song,” however, there’s just one problem: G-C-D isn’t officially a D7 chord.

In fact, it’s not a D chord at all. It’s what we call a “sustained” chord. This one starts on G, so it’s G sustained, or Gsus (sometimes Gsus4).

Musicology Moment: Sus chords are so named because they are impostors – they are a type of I chord masquerading as a type of V chord. This is not true, but now you will never forget it.

So the options here are trainwreck the fingers or fake a task and hope no one notices. (You’ll notice I chose to vent.) Happy birthday to you indeed.

Oh, and why do we need that D-related chord at all? Because the first “you” ends on F# and the second “to” jumps to A, so that the second “you” can find the root note like we’ve been begging this song to do since it began.

If you’re even more confused now, you’re doing it right

“But wait,” I hear you say. “If that D7 chord is there to accommodate the F# and the A, why is it a D7 chord? There is no C? Which is the thing the D7 chord has that the D chord didn’t? In fact I don’t see a C in the first two lines at all? What is going on?”

Congratulations! You are now better at music than this song is.

The third “happy” lets us stay on that nice solid I chord. It feels like a victory. It is in fact a false sense of security intended to lull us into complaisance – sure, I’ll finish the song, how bad can it be? – before presenting us with the worst thing that can possibly happen to non-singers:

The leap between “happy” and “birth” is an entire octave.

I hope you didn’t come here to sing

Octave jumps are easy to hear but hard to sing. “Over the Rainbow” was an instant hit the moment Judy Garland went for that octave leap between “some” and “where” and absolutely nailed it.

And “Over the Rainbow” had the decency to start on the root note. “Happy Birthday” thinks you should just jump between sol and sol. Go on, it’s fine. It’s not like you’ll ever need to sing this twice, right?

All music theory can do is watch this happen

We switch chords again on the hapless birthday person’s name. But not back to D, even though there’s a big fat happy F# just sitting there waiting for us. Nope, we’re going to C, which in this case is the IV chord.

Do you see an F# in there? No, you don’t. Because there isn’t one.

I, V, and IV are in basically every song Western music has produced since the days of rugged manly wigs, heels, and silk stockings. But not like this. Dear God, not like this.

Somehow you’re also supposed to squeeze that IV out above I, even though your fingers are also trying to hold that E for as long as the piano’s sustain pedal will allow. Don’t ask me. I didn’t write it.

Maybe it sounds better upside-down

The next super exciting chord change is marked “G/D.”

Anyone want to guess? No? Isn’t music fun?

Lead sheets, aka “fake books,” often use the / to indicate an inversion.

Musicology Moment: Despite what those nice circus recruiters told you in high school, chord inversions are not actually easier to play upside-down.

Remember our nice solid ordinary chord, which is made up of the note the chord is named for, the third, and the fifth?

G major

An inversion is the same three notes, but it moves one or both of the bottom two up an octave to sit above the others.

Here, G is where we’re going to start: G-B-D. D is the note that wants to be on the bottom. So we’ll spread the fingers out a bit and grab D-G-B instead. (This is a second inversion, for those of you with dreams of appearing on Jeopardy! one day.)

Is this easy to get to from C? Eh. It’s not rocket surgery.

The worst part is that D-G-B tends to emphasize D, while the whole thing is sitting over a B. At least that B is in the melody.

Also, that G in the middle of the chord? You’re going to need that for the second note. While you’re already plonking it for the chord.

Unless you’re not, because you’re already getting ready to hit that next chord, which is D-F#-A-C if you’re feeling proper and you probably are because you’re pretty much already right there.

…Wait, did this song almost do something right?

No. No, it did not. Enjoy your one beat of D7 before you scramble back down to An Actual G Chord. I’d skip the whole thing if I were you.

Finally, the root note, “do,” the one note we’ve been looking for the whole time thank you it is finally over thank you.

There is a God.

Musicians do not get paid enough.

What was the point of all this?

Music theory did not prevent this abomination from becoming possibly the best-known, and certainly the most-often-sung, song of all time.

Music theory could not prevent this.

Believe me, music theory wanted to.

Music theory dreams of the day it can yeet this abomination into the ocean and produce a birthday song that is actually singable – maybe something that sticks neatly to do-re-mi-fa-sol and only uses real live I and V chords, in a neat pattern even the most deeply embucketed owl can sing.

Alas, that day will never come, for music theory can do nothing. Music theory can only describe what it sees. Even when what it sees is…this.

Now go compose something.

If this mess can become the world’s best-known song, imagine what your music can do.


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commentary and current events

How to Exist on Faith Alone

Like the cake, the post title is a lie. I have no idea how to do this, even though I’m currently doing it.

Last night, I Facebook’d the following:

In Richard Rohr’s The Universal Christ, p. 147: “In so doing, Jesus demonstrated that Reality is not meaningless and absurd, even if it isn’t always perfectly logical or consistent.”

One of the hardest, and yet most urgent, things I have tried to explain throughout this process is that I find myself, more than at any other time in my life, existing on faith alone. Specifically, faith that if I just keep going I will get someplace where I can make meaning again. Or as Allie Brosh put it, “Sometimes all you can really do is keep going and hope you end up somewhere that makes sense.”

It’s not the maudlin sunset-and-curly-script faith of sympathy cards or the cheery lip service faith of people who think waiting 25 minutes for restaurant service is a violation of their Constitutional rights. The faith required to exist inside this grief is not uplifting. It’s harrowing. My instinct is to warn people not to find it inspiring. I don’t want to be here, and I don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking this is a nice place to be.

I have no reason or evidence to suggest that “someplace that makes sense” on the other side of grief even exists. I only know that whatever has made getting there my imperative is itself inexorable. I call it faith because I don’t know what else to call it. If this is faith, it’s the first one I’ve ever had.

Allow me to expand.

(Image: Blog post title and URL with a road stretching into the distance.)

For most of my life, I’ve told people I don’t have a “faith.” For most of my life, I didn’t, at least as far as I and those asking understood the term.

As a child, the only time I heard about “faith” was when the word was used as shorthand for a demand that I accept some set of myths and doctrines as factually and literally accurate, regardless of any evidence in support of this stance. In fact, some people exhorting me to “faith” seemed to think that the less evidence supported their premises, the better – insisting some myth or doctrine was “true” without any basis was a virtue.

(In this context, I find the claim that “facts don’t care about your feelings” deeply ironic. The demand for faith as an adherence to alternative facts certainly cares about no one’s feelings, only about emotions as performance. But I digress.)

At some point in my late teens or early 20s, I started telling those who asked that I had no faith, because I had no use for gods I had not personally encountered (in hindsight, it was perhaps more accurate to say that such gods had no use for me). Plenty of people, “of faith” and otherwise, interpreted this stance as atheism, and I let them. It scraped off both the doctrine LARPers and the atheists who defined their lack of faith as rejection of doctrine LARPing.

It wasn’t atheism. But I didn’t know what it was. When the only definition of “faith” I had was “swallow this particular line of nonsense for no reason because doing it for no reason is what makes it virtuous,” what I did not have was a word for the deep and abiding imperative I felt to find meaning. Somewhere. Somehow.

I did a lot of “spiritual seeking” at this point in my life, and the two groups I found that seemed most driven by that deep imperative – that thing I couldn’t call “faith” because that word had been taken – were atheist Jews and Satanists. The former tended to have a close commitment to community and culture, while the latter overtly held that suffering sucks so we should try to help one another out or at the very least not make it worse.

Outside of these two groups, I saw over and over, in all kinds of religious settings, that to be “people of faith” meant to swallow a particular set of premises and then to go on living exactly as one had before, except with a new zeal for one’s personal prejudices and a new, deity-approved vocabulary with which to express them. The more zealous the use of the vocabulary, the “stronger” one’s “faith.”

In hindsight, I’m not surprised I had no faith.

I have always loved myth, metaphor and the language of storytelling, particularly the lyrical. I have never been able to accept any set of myths, metaphors, stories or lyrics as literally true, and certainly not with enough zeal to proclaim them the basis of doctrine. Like millions of people worldwide, I can recite the entire Apostles’ Creed without taking a breath, but it never changed my behavior, let alone my deep self. To this day I wonder how it could. What in any set of doctrinal premises is transformative?

I had no faith for a great deal of my life. That’s not to say I didn’t have a drive toward the spiritual. I did, and do, and it’s relentless. As long as I can remember, something in me has known that the transformative exists and has pursued it.

But while the drive toward the transformative is relentless, my willingness to give it its head has not been. I kept it on a back burner for many years. I’d love to apologize for that in both senses of the term – I had school, I had work, I got sick, etc. – but all those were incidental. Work, school and the rest were excuses and tools to manage deep-rooted fear, anxiety, and unprocessed trauma, both in myself and in others who made their issues my responsibility.

For years, I lived in a headspace where the survival imperative to protect the trauma that protected me competed with an equally strong imperative to find that which would transform my suffering, not end it or give me an escape from it.

I don’t consider it audacious to call that hell.

That I sought the transformative and not a means of escape is crucial here, because going through the suffering rather than running away from it was the opposite of the “faith” I was offered during this time. That faith promised an escape: will yourself into believing these particular premises hard enough, and all your problems will simply…vanish.

Yet even from the outside, I could see that the promise wasn’t only empty; it was a trap. That sort of faith, in which you tell yourself the opposite of what you’re experiencing is true, only “works” as long as you can perform being problem-less. The support of those who sold it to you is only there as long as you can perform being problem-less. When the problems return – and they will, because pretending you don’t have fear or pain or trauma never works for long no matter how you do it – those who sold you the “cure” will blame you for its failure and abandon you.

It happened to me. I saw it happen to several dear friends. There is no room for transformation in that kind of “faith.”

In the weeks and months immediately following the crash, I became even more hesitant than usual to talk about my religious or spiritual work with others, because so many people were there to sell me the quick fix – usually the Bible-flavored version. If I swallowed the premises hard enough – if I chewed on the doctrine and really meant it this time – my grief and its attendant pain would simply vanish. God would fix it. I’d be totally comforted by the idea that my husband is hanging out in some non-corporeal waiting room floating somewhere above the sky (the ISS, maybe?).

Or at least I’d stop being in visible pain where they could see. And for anyone offering a quick fix to deep-rooted pain, that’s the real problem.

I am increasingly disquieted by the ways in which the language of deep transformation that pervades the Gospels (in particular) has been co-opted as the vocabulary of the quick fix. The ability to do things like trust deeply in the divine follows the experience and transformation of suffering, it does not precede it. This, to me, seems like one of the most elementary lessons of Jesus’s death and resurrection, yet it’s largely missing – and those who use the words the loudest often seem to have experienced them the least.

I was not, and am not, interested in anything that simply erases my pain. Both the pain of my early trauma and the pain of losing my husband are rooted in love – in the deepest parts of me, in the source of the best person I know how to be. I haven’t always been that person, certainly, but to deny that pain on the pretense of escaping it is to deny myself. I’m not leaving without me.

My marriage was outwardly the least spiritual period of my life and inwardly the most spiritual. Also in The Universal Christ, Rohr talks about how all human relationships are, at their best, an experience that leads us deeper into an understanding of divine love. None of them are perfect, but all the best ones give us a glimpse of the love on the other side of the transformative.

That was what our marriage did for me. Though we didn’t discuss it in religious terms, we did discuss it: What we shared was a commitment to partnering with one another to sort out our own respective baggage, help one another sort theirs, and nurture the deep love in ourselves and one another. We saw in that deep love the best of who the other person could be, and our purpose toward ourselves and each other was to help that best thrive.

I never took it for granted, but I got used to it. To loving deeply; to transforming suffering; to seeing someone who embraced my ability to see them and whose natural, joyous response was to reciprocate that seeing.

And then I lost him.

None of the grief literature I’ve read or advice I’ve received so far talks about how to deal with that. The cheap “faith” advice is the worst of all, because it expects me to abandon that to lip service about an otherwise largely absent deity making me not feel its impact. But to do that is to abandon precisely that which endures about my husband, precisely that which matters most. I find the word “sin” even more loaded than the word “faith,” but abandoning the best of my marriage now would be a sin.

Of course, since I refuse to walk away from the sorrow, my only alternative is to live with and in it. And that’s hard. Having gotten used to loving someone that deeply, I don’t know how to turn it off – but I’m also at a loss where to put it. That kind of connection, romantic or otherwise, takes years to build.

And the loss of the person I had it with is precisely what prevents me, right now, from trying to build that kind of connection with anyone else. Right now, the grief prevents me from being present with others in the way I’d need to be in order to fully see them, as well as the way they would need in order to fully see me.

There are, of course, people who will happily soak up the incidents of that love – the behaviors and outward manifestations of it. I’ve had more than one buzzing around like a parched mosquito. There’s blood here somewhere, give it to me! But a one-sided, draining relationship was not what my marriage was. I didn’t discover deep joy in draining myself until there was nothing left (in fact it nearly killed me twice before I turned 30). I discovered it in suffering and transforming together with someone, where we were as committed to our own transformation as we were to one another’s – and we saw those as partnered endeavors in themselves, not as competing ones.

Disposing of love is easy. Building relationships that fire love into a transformative force is hard.

The reciprocity and deep love of our marriage gave my life meaning for a decade. Now I’m adrift. Nothing seems to have much meaning at all, and after more than five months I am only starting to be able to see a world in which I am able to make some kind of meaning at all.

What keeps me going, and has kept me going, is that same deep certainty that meaning exists. Somewhere. That if I can get through the pain of the moment rather than away from it, I can get to meaning. I can get “somewhere that makes sense,” as Allie Brosh puts it.

I have no evidence that this is the case. When I ask myself why I think that’s true, I can’t answer. When I wonder why I should do this and not any of the other highly limited options available (like, idk, lying down and dying), I don’t have an answer either.

If faith is a driving need to find a place to put all this love before I forget how, I found it.

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